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Dragging anchor….

After studying the weather for hours, we came to the conclusion that it was anybody’s guess. All week, the forecast for each day couldn’t be further from accurate. We assumed when the forecast called for light air….then it would probably be a nice windy day to sail to Key Largo. Key Largo is 35 miles from Dinner Key Marina – an easy sail down Biscayne Bay – to Angel Fish Creek….and then out to Hawks Channel on the “outside”.

Naturally, the forecast is right-on for the day we choose to sail. Light air it is. Very light. You could say no wind. There was no wake behind Cat Maudy as she did her best to cruise at 2 knots. All of the other sailboats passed us. That’s because they had their motor running. Not Cat Maudy. She is bound and determined to sail without the sounds of her engines.

At this speed, it took the bulk of the day to sail 17 miles, far short of our destination at Key Largo. But all was not lost. Our mooring neighbor Tom had invited us to join him for a sailing / fishing excursion at Sands Key. Sands Key is halfway between Dinner Key and Key Largo — and Cat Maudy wasn’t going any further under sail. We navigated around the shoal, and entered into some very shallow waters – until we reached the anchorage. I dropped the anchor and let out 40′ of chain rode. All the while, in awe that not only could I see the anchor, but all 40′ of chain just laying on the bottom of the bay. Back at our home port in Baltimore – there is no visibility (thanks to pollution and muck)…so it is pretty spectacular being in clear water.

I could have easily just stared at the anchor and chain on the floor of the BB, but Paddy was fussing that we needed to secure the “bridle”. The bridle is used to take the stress off of the chain – and distribute the load between the hulls. Paddy and I spent the next 30 minutes trying to figure out how to untangle the bridle…and connect it to the anchor. It appears we have forgotten how to anchor. One too many days at a mooring ball.

The evening was quiet, with barely a ripple on the Bay. We would plan to rendezvous with Captain Tom the next morning- to learn the many tricks he had up his sleeve on catching fish. In the meantime, we relaxed in the solitude of the Sands Key anchorage with 5-6 other anchored boats.

The weather for our fishing adventure was expected to become volatile. Early AM would be calm…but by mid-day, gale force winds would roar from the southwest….later turning to the west…and then becoming northwest. Part of this forecast would prove to be correct.

As the winds kicked up by 9AM….two of our boat neighbors dragged anchor. We double checked our anchor and it seemed secure. I gloated. Remind me never to gloat. “Yeah…we have a kick ass anchor…we don’t drag”….that kind of gloat. Tom’s boat had dragged 200 yards away from us toward the shoal. A Beneteau had dragged anchor and landed on the shoal. Tom was on rescue mode in his dinghy – and he pulled the monohull off of the shoal into deeper waters. By the time we arrived in our dinghy to assist — both boats were secured.

Time to go fishing! Well, we watched Tom as he fished. I wasn’t going to embarrass myself with my special trolling rod. Tom uses a “casting rod”. Someday I’ll get one of those. Paddy and I rowed our dingy toward’s Tom. We tried to be very “quiet” (i.e. no engine)….as we closed in on Tom’s fishing hole. The winds were getting fiesty, so Paddy and I had to apply some muscle into rowing. All of a sudden…my oar broke in half! For a moment, I wanted to believe that I may have to tone down my upper bod workouts? But no, that wasn’t it. The oar had rotted out.

With 1 and 1/2 oars, we made it to Tom’s location, and tied our dinghies together. We drifted into the mangroves. I was ready to film the entire adventure…from Tom catching a monster barracuda…to the blood letting. But, the fish were not interested in any lure that Tom tossed at them.

By now, the winds had kicked up to that magic velocity that results in you getting soaked in the dinghy. We tried to stay close to shore….until the last moment and then make a beeline for Cat Maudy – but it didn’t matter. We were already drenched, and the waves were getting bigger. We hopped onto Cat Maudy…just in time. The winds are starting to howl.

Cat Maudy is making an unusual groaning noise. It was hard to hear above the howling wind…but there was no mistaking the groan. “We’re dragging anchor!”…Paddy yells… I go forward to check it out. Yup…there is a huge “drag line” mark made on the bottom of the Bay (since you can see everything!). We are dragging. OK…I promise never to gloat about our kick ass anchor again.

Maybe we should find an anchorage with better protection from wind? Then again, protected anchorages don’t exist on Biscayne Bay. Especially when the wind is clocking nearly full circle at gale force. We consider a sail back to Dinner Key. Gale force southerlies…we should be back to the mooring field no time. We decide to do “something” other than dragging anchor at this unprotected anchorage…

Time to pull up the anchor. I admit, it is far easier to pull up anchor in light air…than heavy. There is soooo much pressure on the chain…We had to be careful not to overly stress the windlass. With Paddy navigating, and me providing useless information about where I thought the anchor was in relation to the front of the boat….we somehow managed to raise the anchor without destroying any electronics.

Now…we are heading directly INTO the gale force winds from the southwest…and slowly departing Sands Key. We are making a whopping 3 knots of way with the force of the wind on our nose.

I whip out the binoculars. “Paddy, do you think it’s a problem that we can no longer see the Miami skyline, or Key Biscayne?” Very dark clouds had now moved in. I’m guessing heavy rains to our north have limited the visibility to normally pronounced skylines. But which way is the storm moving? If the storms are moving north (and away from us), then we will miss the storms. If the storms are moving south, then we will be sitting ducks in a narrow channel on the wide open Biscayne Bay when they hit.

Aiii. Cat Maudy reverses course…I guess we’ll go back to the unprotected anchorage -and try to set the anchor before the massive storms move in. We return to Sands Key…and this time, we put out 80′ of chain rode. Double our previous length. We connect the bridle in 2 minutes. It seem our “anchoring” skills have returned. Nothing quite like a bit of stress to put your skills into high gear.

Next, we race to lash down the sail – and tie up any loose ends. The sky is becoming black…and the wispy low lying clouds are getting closer. Paddy uses our nav software to draw a “gps circle” around our boat. This way, if we start dragging anchor again – all sorts of alerts and warnings will ring loudly.

The storms get close…we are already dragging anchor again. I’m in “beg mode” now. C’mon Ms. Buegel german-made anchor…hang on to the sandy surface OK? Puullllesssseee….” And after dragging 10 feet…she held tight. Thirty minutes later….the winds subsided. A gigantic rainbow rose to the east, and a stunning bright red sun, set to the west. The storm was over.

Or, so we thought. By 8PM the winds were intensifying from the west, and by 9PM the winds howled so loud, you had to shout to be heard in the cockpit. Every weather forecast I checked on the computer, was not looking good. It seems like the weather folks got one right. It will blow into the 40 knot range tonight. We can only hope for the best, that our anchor holds. Paddy and I work out a “watch schedule”. I have insomnia, so this concept is a bit silly. But, it is important to keep Paddy happy, so I go along with the schedule. By 2AM, Paddy takes a walk around the deck to check the bridle…and comes back with BIG eyes. “We’ve got a problem”.

He and I put on our nifty strap-around-the-forehead-headlamps, and race to the port cleat. The wind hits us smack in the face, and I have to find something to grab onto – to avoid being blown off the boat. The temperatures are in the 40s and my butt is quivvering.

Holy moley. The bridle is holding on by a hair. It is nearly off the cleat. Paddy wants to fix it “properly” by starting up the motors….and inching forward until the pressure if off the bridle….and then I can re-wrap and secure the bridle back onto the cleat. I prefer the “we don’t have time” for perfection solution. So, I suggest that we wrap another line through the loop in the bridle….and secure the second line to the cleat. There was no time to debate. We couldn’t lose the bridle…. Within a minute, we had the 2nd line wrapped around the noose of the bridle, and the new line is “locked down”.

With the winds intensifying, Paddy wants to prep the 2nd anchor. If the first anchor starts dragging in the middle of the night with these winds….we won’t have much time to react. We dig out the second anchor, tie it onto a massively huge line….secure it to the boat…and plunk her in the water. We return to the salon and hope for the best. Paddy suggests I get some sleep. Yeah right. I listen to the howling winds for the next 8 hours, and re-check our “position” every 15 minutes…. I don’t need any electronics or weather predictions to tell me how much the wind is blowing. I know the wind intensity by feel and sound. By 11AM Sunday….the winds subside. With 2 anchors down, Cat Maudy held her position. Whew.

2 replies »

  1. Awesome adventure! I love the picture of the emerald water against an angry sky. Acts of Nature. Anyway, had to check on you guys and make sure you're not near Barcelona or Chili or Haiti. Barracuda sounded yummy and the lemon rub is definitely the way to go. We are definitely jealous. Love. P&K

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